Much that is good is afoot in the Dawgosphere, starting with Senator Blutarsky's kind kudos on my recent April Fool's Day prank, which provoked a good friend and longtime reader to send me the following e-mail:
After receiving that dispatch, I began to wonder how I could make it up to him . . . then I realized how: Bloggerpalooza '07!
Obligatory photograph from Bloggerpalooza '06.
G-Day is this Saturday, April 7, and Doug Gillett and I will be meeting in front of the main library, in the quadrangle south of Old College between Hirsch and Peabody Halls, at 10:30 a.m. I'll be bringing my brother-in-law and a bucket of fried chicken. Doug will be bringing donuts and beverages of allegedly dubious family-friendliness, so, if you're a 22-year-old Auburn student, be sure to bring your fake I.D. so you can get a beer and three credits toward a sociology degree. (I hate Auburn.) If you plan to stop by, let me know in the comments below.
Over at his new weblog, Tommy Perkins had some nice things to say about Dawg Sports, for which I am obliged, but, more importantly, he offered a cautionary assessment of the growing Gator menace, stating:
I contend that the SEC is in danger of becoming the Pac-10, with Florida playing the role of USC as the conference's undisputed alpha. If you're an SEC fan (or, heaven forbid, an SEC athletics administrator) untroubled by Florida's rise, you're not paying attention. More troubling to me is that Georgia, which is well-equipped to turn back this tide, has instead allowed it to gather volume. For evidence, look no further than this season, when the Gators completed a sweep of Georgia in football, men's basketball, baseball and freaking gymnastics, which, during my time as a student during the Ray Goff era, was the only source of consolation for Bulldogs sports fans.
Today, the Florida men's basketball team stands on the cusp of repeating as NCAA champs. If they do so, they will become the first team to do so since Duke did it in 1991 and 1992. This marks a major change in the landscape. If we were talking about UCLA, Kentucky, Indiana, UNC or any other traditional basketball heavyweight, we could remain content that the status quo remains unchecked. But this [is] Florida. Prior to losing in the second round of the 1987 NCAAs, Florida had never been to the Big Dance. Of Florida's 10 NCAA tournament appearances and two final four appearances, half occurred under current coach Bill Donovan, who is in his 10th season in Gainesville. Florida's emergence as a basketball power is as sudden and out-of-nowhere as was Miami's arrival as a football power in 1983.
While we're on the subject of football, consider that prior to Steve Spurrier's arrival in 1990, Florida went some six decades without a football title of any kind - conference or national. Since then, they've amassed seven SEC titles and two national championships.
The emphasis was added by me because, although I share Tommy's desire to see the Orange and Blue return to the historical norm, I do not believe we are witnessing a power shift as profound and fundamental as Tommy seems to suppose.
Urban Meyer reminds us how many S.E.C. football championships the Gators have won since Steve Spurrier left for the N.F.L.
Yes, the sleeping giant in Gainesville has been awakened and it is doubtful that the Gators ever will return to the mediocrity that once defined their program, given the resources at their disposal as a popular program at the flagship institution of a populous and talent-rich state. The days in which Florida will underachieve perennially are a thing of the past . . . although the experiences of Alabama, Auburn, Georgia, L.S.U., and Tennessee (all of which have gone through downcycles of varying lengths during the last two decades) remind us that there is no longer any such thing as a perpetual power in intercollegiate athletics.
The notion that Florida is "the conference's undisputed alpha" is mistaken (I, for one, dispute it) and the comparison to Southern California does not bear scrutiny. Between 2002 and 2006, Pete Carroll's Trojans went 59-6 overall and 37-4 in Pac-10 play, were 4-1 in two Orange Bowl and three Rose Bowl appearances, and won at least a share of five straight conference titles and a pair of national championships.
During that same span, the Gators have gone 45-19 against all competition, posted a 29-12 ledger in S.E.C. outings, won one conference crown and one national title, and gone 2-3 in a B.C.S. championship game, a trio of Outback Bowls, and a Peach Bowl. The Big Lizards' achievements are impressive, but they hardly demonstrate a dominance of the sort the Trojans have enjoyed during the period of their hegemony in the Pac-10.
Granted, Pete Carroll and Urban Meyer have one of these apiece, but there the similarities end.
While Steve Spurrier undoubtedly awakened, and Urban Meyer appears to have revived, the slumbering potential to be found in the Swamp, the Orange and Blue stood astride the Southeastern Conference for four years, capturing conference championships in each of the seasons from 1993 to 1996.
Once again, that is an impressive feat, but hardly a revolutionary one; Alabama won five in a row from 1971 to 1975 and teams have won three straight titles on a number of occasions. In the decade from 1997 to 2006, Florida captured two conference championships, while, during that same span, Alabama, Auburn, Georgia, L.S.U., and Tennessee all won S.E.C. titles, with the Bayou Bengals, the Bulldogs, and the Volunteers all claiming two apiece. At the end of the day, the Gators' achievements, even in their best season of the 21st century, have been matched by those of Georgia and Louisiana State.
Since the Evil Genius returned to Gainesville in 1990, undefeated seasons have been posted by Alabama in 1992, Auburn in 1993, Tennessee in 1998, and Auburn in 2004 . . . but never once by the Gators, who have not finished a season with an unblemished record since 1911. Oftentimes during that period, the Gators have played the role not of alpha but of spoiler, as Florida's wins over the Crimson Tide in 1994, the Bulldogs in 2002, and the Bayou Bengals in 2003 were the only losses those squads suffered.
Florida's rule over the Southeastern Conference is tenuous; however demonstrably superior the Orange and Blue may be in basketball, the Big Lizards' multi-sport dominance over division rival Georgia generally has been by the slimmest of margins, coming in extra innings, by decimal places, and on fortuitous fumbles. While I will be glad when the natural order is restored, we must not forget that it always appears darkest before the dawn.
Over the course of time in any competitive rivalry, the pendulum invariably swings. For how many years did Nebraska fans wonder whether Tom Osborne would ever beat Oklahoma? On the day Pat Dye took up the reins at Auburn, how many among the War Eagle faithful questioned his ability to get the better of Alabama? Might some Texas fans have asked if Mack Brown would ever beat the Sooners? Did any Crimson Tide booster imagine after 'Bama went 19-4-1 against Tennessee between 1971 and 1994 that the Big Orange would get the better of the Red Elephants 10 times in the next dozen games? Weren't there even those among the Gator faithful who doubted Darth Visor's ability to best the Bowdens?
Getting to the top, while difficult, is easier than staying on top. There is no question that the Gators are going through a good patch right now, but how long can it last amid the constant chaos of modern intercollegiate athletics? Billy Donovan may be coaching his last game for Florida this very night. The peripatetic Urban Meyer has given Gator fans no particular reason to trust his loyalty.
Jeremy Foley began working for the athletic department in Gainesville in 1976 and he has spent a tumultuous decade and a half as the leader of that organization. How much longer will he want (or be welcome in) that job? Florida, a school with a checkered record even by S.E.C. standards, is always an affray away from the sorts of scandals that attracted the attention of the N.C.A.A. on two separate occasions in the mid- and late 1980s.
Ere any loyal Georgia fan lapses into despair, we should remember that what goes around comes around . . . and, when the World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party comes back around next autumn, Bulldog Nation would do well to recall that Georgia is 5-1 against defending national champions in the last 43 years.